Think of the pressure Marcus Aurelius must have been under. Not just of the temptations and the corruptions of power, but all the eyes that were on him. Forget the judgments of history, there was literally an “emperor cult” in Rome that worshipped the man on the throne as a god to be sacrificed to and prayed for.
What we know is that Marcus took this pressure seriously. He strove to live up to the expectations and the dignity of his position, even if many of his predecessors had not. “Let people see someone living naturally,” he reminded himself in Meditations 10:15, “and understand what that means.” And in Meditations 10:16, that’s where he writes his famous line to stop talking about what a good person is like and just be one.
But what’s interesting is that while Marcus more or less lived up to this pressure, he claimed to be doing it for himself, not for other people. Actually the second half of the line in 10:15 talks about how he’s fine being killed for what he believes in, if people don’t understand it. He’s doing right because it’s right, not because people are watching. It’s sort of like that Chris Rock line about being a role model: Don’t not beat your wife because you’re a role model for young people, don’t do it because it’s wrong!
Remember what Marcus said about not expecting the “third thing”—that is, gratitude or acknowledgment. Be a good role model because you’re a good person, because you’ve trained yourself to like and enjoy being good. Be a good role model because that’s what this philosophy demands of you, because that’s what life is demanding of you. That it might help other people, that you are teaching your children or your audience at the same time? That’s extra.
Don’t talk about being a good role model. Be one.